Scythian or Saka (Sakae)?

A fallow bay mare (3+ years of age) – used to pull Sakra’s chariot (Photo by Helena Lopes)

under construction

This page is dedicated to collecting information that is available on the peoples mentioned in the title. Consequently, it is A WORK IN PROGRESS. By the way, Shakya is another name for Saka….One of these days, Merriam-Webster must revise its definition of Saka.

Saka  noun

Sa·​ka | \ ˈsäkə \ plural Saka

Definition of Saka: any of various nomadic peoples formerly inhabiting the steppe lands north of the Iranian plateau


When I first started researching and writing about the Saka tribes in CHOIR OF CLOISTERED CANARIES (pp. 183-192), there was hardly much information on the Saka-Scythians. I did, however, rely on the DNA research that, undoubtedly, led to an explosion of interest in these collective, ethnic people, not to mention archeological findings. The current prevailing research on them is that they originated in the Altai region. The Altai Mountains (where Russia, China, Mongolia, and Kazakhstan converge) have been identified as being the point of origin of a cultural enigma that arose during the Bronze Age around the start of the 2nd millennium BCE and led to a rapid and massive migration of peoples from the region into distant parts of Europe and Asia. The reason to believe they likely originated from the Altai region is a cultural commonality: These “Scythians/Saka possessed advanced metal working technology and an unexplained rapid migration. These nomads traveled on horseback (domesticated ca. 4000-3500 BCE) and later, once urbanized, moved about on two-wheeled chariots. In addition, similar patterns of burial sites with similar bronze artifacts (ca. 2300-1700 BCE) have been found across northern Eurasia, including Korea and Japan.

As for the Shakya derivative, there is a lot of ancestral references in Tibetan Buddhist literature, which I wish to explore. The search for the ethnic origin of Siddhartha Gautama (alias Buddha Shakyamuni), whose birth date is controversial, was originally thought to have been born ca. 700 BCE (however, the birthday has been posited based on astrological mapping and historical references—ca. 1887-1807 BCE). (It should be noted that, when the British came up with their timetable of Indian history, they imposed the Biblical interpretation of origin.) This journey into ancient history is only a hobby; it is not an academic venture although academic literature has been digested to understand the existing body on the subject matter but somewhat sketchy.

Origins: Geographers and historians claim that, between the Altai Mountains and the Sayan Mountains (north of Altai in Siberia), a civilization existed during the time of the Egyptian pyramids if not earlier. They even call that region as “the cradle of civilization” where humans could survive. It was an area in which the stability of the area made it possible for them to populate to the point that there was possibly a need to migrate. They left behind thousands of petroglyphs, cave paintings, burial mounds, upright man-made stones, steles, and other ancient monuments.

Archaeological materials of Bronze Age, monumental sculptures, rock paintings show the complexity of the religious beliefs of tribes inhabiting territory of the Altai Mountains (ca. 6 millennium BCE – 9 century BCE). They allow to see elements of Indo-European mythological tradition, images of shamans, and spirits of patrons. Iconographic images associated with unique motifs related with early Buddhist subjects (after all, Buddha Shakyamuni was a Saka), are found in Tibetan Buddhism as well, which originated on the basis of pre-Buddhist religion of Tibet Bon, also known as Yundrung Bon (“tradition of eternal wisdom”), such as the swastika.

The swastika (“Higher Self Being Good” in literal Sanskrit) appeared in the archaeological record around 3000 BCE in the Indus Valley. It also appeared in the Bronze and Iron Age cultures around the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. In all these cultures, the swastika symbol had a marked position or significance with varying complexity. More than likely, it was the symbol of the revolving sun, infinity, continuing creation, auspiciousness. For example, in Hinduism, it is the solar symbol of Surya (aka Vishnu). In Buddhism, it represents the whole enlightened mind of the Buddha.  Over time, this ancient symbol became the most common symbol in its varying interpretation throughout the world and found in the art of the Egyptians, Romans, Greeks, Celts, Native Americans, Persians, and the like. Swastikas on pottery and other household objects found in China suggest that the swastika traveled with traders and with the spread of Buddhism throughout Asia.

The various clans and tribes inhabiting Altai represent a synthesis of several religions and cultures that developed over time, two of which are reflected in funeral ceremony and the arts during the Scythian period between 8-2 centuries BCE). Scythian/Saka cultures mixed shaman, Zoroastrian, and Buddhist ideas. The symbiosis of Indo-European and shamanic burial are vividly presented in the funeral ceremonies in Altai Pazyryk barrows (burial mounds). Despite high degrees of religious beliefs and differences of that period, the tribes preserved the cult of fire, sun, ancestors as well as elements of magic and witchcraft. In addition, archaeologists have found strands of human hair sewn into skin, nails and various charms at the Pazyryk site. There is also archaeological evidence that confirms the presence of special techniques of ecstasy, ritual fumigation, and the use of the enigmatic ritual drink “soma” in religious practices. No one has yet to come up with the recipe except that milk, opium, and cannabis were in the mix.

Borders over time expanded and contracted. This map illustrates one of many such maps.

Keep in mind that the Scythians/Saka cultures had many similarities, yet not identical. Also keep in mind that the Scythians/Sakae, basically, were a loose federation of semi-nomadic clans and tribes with advanced technologies to boot (e.g., gold, copper, and bronze metallurgy and pastoralism). All Sakae were Scythians, but not all Scythians were Sakae. What was similar was weaponry, horses, bridles for horses, bow and arrows, chariots, jewelry, decorative arts, cattle, and the like. Eventually their cultures were subsumed into other renamed peoples—such as the Cimmerians, Elamites, Amazons, Massagetae, Thracians, Sarmatians, Parthians, including early Slavs, Balts, and Finnic peoples (as for Vikings, the term really was an occupational designation rather than a people), Cimmerians (Gimirrai), Amyrigians, Homodotes, Komedes, Kaspians, and the like. They spoke Indo-Iranian languages and dialects. Eventually, they were referred to as the nomadic eastern or western Scythians of the Eastern or Western Steppes, respectively. As for the non-nomads that remained in Asia and Asia Minor, they eventually became known as Aryan or Shakya.

Early Saka Tigraxauda/Haumavarga occupation

Nonetheless, Darius I (Darius the Great; TIB. Dareyawes) of the Achaemenid Empire, who reigned from ca. 522-486 BCE, recorded at Mount Behistun in Iran that the Sakae comprised of four tribes. For Darius I, it was like conquering the last frontiers. He identified the Sakae as follows: (1) Saka haumavarga (the Soma drinkers), (2) Saka tigraxauda (with pointed caps), (3) Saka tayai paradraya  (likely from the regions between the Caspian Sea and the Aral Sea, including the land between its main tributaries—the Syr Darya and the Amu Darya (thus the name Aryan (alias aryas) comes into play), and (4) Saka tyal para Sugdam (beyond Sogdiana). Under Xerxes I, many were employed as troops who helped capture Athens ca. 479 BCE. If one carefully follows the tribal flow of those who ruled, one would, more than likely, find them to be of Saka origin, Darius I was one of them. (It is too detailed to print here, and that is not where this prose is headed.)

Due to the pointy-hat phenomena preserved in ancient sculpture and existing attire throughout history, it is almost safe to say that the Saka tribe described by Darius I is Saka tigraxauda (aka TigraKhaudi, aka Massagetae, etc.), were known for the pointed hats. They were located east of the Caspian Sea. However, all Saka wore “pointed-hats” of varied sorts. One such group was referred to as TigraKakud who wore horned headdress and were the gold miners mining the northern lands (Jammu-Kashmir), but it also is likely that the Saka para Sugdam (Saka beyond Sogdiana) and the Saka paradraya and Saka haumavarga are in the mix when identifying the pre-Vedic civilization of Harappa (named after the current locality and aka Sapta Sindhu or Indus Civilization), and finally the Aryan presence (likely the Saka paradraya) into the Indian Continent. Nonetheless, most scholars believe that the Saka tigraxauda and the Saka haumavarga were located east of the Caspian Sea, but they do not recognize that those “pointed hats” made it to Tibet. The Saka para Sugdam were likely those who resided in the Tarim Basin (ca. 7th century BCE) in modern-day Xinjiang, China. (They were called Sai in Old Sinitic, and in the Chinese Book of Han, the area was called the “land of the Sai.”) At a later date, after they were driven out of the valleys between two rivers, the Ili and Chu, they continued to occupy the remaining area east of Bactria and Sogdiana known as Sacae, including the Pamir Mountains.

The Achaemenid Empire under the rule of Darius I at its expansive height

Regarding the pointy hats, here is evidence of such people, beginning with Naram-Sin:

Naram-Sin of Akkad

NaramSin of Akkad reigned from 2254-2218  BCE. His headgear was pointy or horned. In addition, he claimed that he was the King of the  Four Quarters and the King of the Universe, a likely reference to the Altai mythology of Mount Meru. He was the first to claim himself ruler over the pantheon of Gods. He reigned from 2254-2218 BCE and conquered is territorial conquest also included upper Mesopotamia as far as the Mediterranean Sea, Anatolia (Turkey, Syria, Armenia combined), later to be conquered by the Achaemenids. Further illustrations on the Pointed/Horned headwear—

Persian Empire ca. 500 BCE
Magian (ca. 559-330 BCE)

When Cyrus the Great chose the site of Persepolis (ca. 515 BCE) as his ceremonial capital of his Achaemenid Empire (ca. 550-330 BCE), to celebrate the first month of the Iranian solar calendar, marked by the spring equinox (Aries), many of the bs-relief figures on the entrance walls to the complex were Saka tigraxauda. When his reign ended, and the destruction of Persepolis, by Alexander the Great, as Alexander moved eastward towards the Indus Valley, there were written encounters of his army meeting up with warring Saka tribes of Bactria, Sogdiana, and Arachosia.

Traces of Saka references in Tibetan Buddhism

The most important holy month for Tibetan Buddhists is Saka Dawa (Saga Dawa), which is dedicated to “making merit.” Thus, it is referred to as the “month of merits.” Dawa means “month” in Tibetan, and “Saka” or “Saga” is the name of a star prominent in the sky during the fourth lunar month of the Tibetan calendar when Saga Dawa is observed. Saka Dawa usually begins in May and ends in June with the new moon. According to American journalist and author, Barbara O’Brien, merit is understood in many ways in Buddhism. We can think of it as the fruits of good karma. In early Buddhist teachings, the three grounds of meritorious action are generosity, morality, and mental culture or meditation. Since the lunar month begins and ends with the new moon, the full moon day that falls in the middle of the month is Saka Dawa Duchen (duchen means “great occasion”). This is the single most holy day, for it commemorates the birth, enlightenment, and death (paranirvana) of Buddha Shakyamuni.

Mount Meru: Is it possible that the word “merit” is derived from the word “Meru“? According to Buddhist and Hindu mythology, the abode of the gods and devas where the universe began is known as Meru (Mount Meru) made of copper or gold. Thus, the earthlings seeking favor from the gods/devas behaved appropriately to garnish merit so that their lives would be auspicious. They knew in ancient times that planets and Sun orbited around something, in this case, Mount Meru.

In particular, for Tibetan Buddhists, Mount Meru is considered, metaphorically and allegorically, the center of the universe, much like the Hindu belief that it is the center of the universe. However, for Buddhists, Mount Meru was surrounded by a body of water and that water was encircled by the wind and included 31 different planes of existence residing on the mountain, each one with its own style of life form and worlds (their understanding of the evolutionary process). Mount Meru was considered so high that it touched the heavenly expanse, and the polar star shone (Saka) directly above the mountain, giving it a more sacred appearance. In addition, it is said that the River Ganges came to the mountain as one river. Once it hit Mount Meru, the Ganges divided itself into four separate rivers. Also, there are four cities, one for each side of the mount, filled with inhabitants.

Indra/Sakra. This is the period of time when Indra (aka Sakra or Sakka that means “mighty one”) was the one lord of the heavens who lived at the peak of Mount Meru while four other celestial kings lived one of each side of the mountain. The Mount extended to the southern continent, Jambudvipa where Siddhartha Gautama was born and which itself is divided into four continents.

As the chief god of the heavens and of the East, Indra (alias Sakra) is mentioned in the Rigveda, a collection of Vedic hymns (ca.1900–1200 BCE if not older). In the Tibetan text, Vajra Sky, Indra is mentioned as Sakra along with Brahma, Vishnu, and [Shiva,] the Wrathful One. An interpretation of these godheads is that they are not persons but titles of positions. In this case, it is the position bestowed upon the King of the Devas. They are not reified as having any permanency, for once the zeitgeist (my term) dissolves or dies, the energy is replaced by another. Numerous Rigveda hymns refer to Indra such as “the friend of mankind who holds the different tribes on earth,” for example.

Varja.| Skilled craftman Tvashtr who made the vajra for Indra and who made many implements such as the axe, chariot, and cup that served soma

When it comes to Tibetan Buddhism, Indra wields a powerful weapon, the Vajra, a terrifying light-throwing and destroying  thunderbolt. When depicted with four arms, Indra holds two spears. He and his wife, Shachi, ride a white elephant and are associated with lions. Imagine the stampeding sounds of elephants and the roar of lions. Other epithets assigned to Indra are as a god of war as well as a god of wisdom and magic, including the power to cause heavy rains, the rivers to flow, and beneficial rainfall for agriculture. Indra was known as the King of Svarga (or Svargaloka), which was one of the seven heavenly realms and also which was associated with Anu, Sumerian ruler of the heavenly abode.

In Tibetan Buddhism, the vajra is the symbol of Vajrayana (“Thunderbolt or Diamond Way”) teachings that implies the experience of enlightenment or bodhi—indestructibility of a diamond, which is harder than other gems or skillful means of spiritual practice. Somewhat similarly, in Hinduism and Jainism, the vajra is considered the most powerful tool, representing spiritual resolve and power.

According to Finnish professor of Indology, Asko Parpola, the Sanskrit vajra- and the Avestan (language of Zoroastrian scripture) vazra  refer to a weapon of the Godhead, and are possibly from the Proto-Indo-European root *weg’ that means “to be(come) powerful”. It is related to Proto-Finno-Uralic vaśara, “hammer, axe.”  Both the Sanskrit and Finno-Ugric derivatives, however, are likely Proto-Aryan or Proto-Indo-Aryan. Moreover, it is cognate to the ukonvasara of thunder god Ukko from Finnish mythology, and the mjolnir of thunder god Thor from Norse mythology

The most famous accomplishment of Indra’s worth to the earthlings was his slaying of the malevolent snake (naga, an asura) named Vritra, the demon of drought. Fitting to the mythology of the time, Indra drank an immense volume of Soma, the drink of immortality, to gain the necessary strength and set off to find Vritra. Indra stormed Vritra’s fortress and dragged him out. A terrible battle ensued. Finally. Indra destroyed Vritra with his thunderbolt Vajra, cutting Vritra’s belly open and releasing all the water to flow back to the world. Thus, Indra brought back life to the world and was hence named ‘King of the Gods’. Not only do we have Varuna, sky deity, reduced to a demigod, with similar epithets as Indra, he is mentioned in hymn 7.86 of the Rigveda and is attributed with the characteristic of  “Satya” (“truth – dharma“). What we see here is a change in etymology of the root word saka, sakya, shakya, sakra, saketa….

Now, let us get a sense of the time period this is recorded in history and let us look at the linguistic origin of the word “asura.” It is a term related to the Indo-Iranian people and is pre-Zoroastrianism. It should be noted that those who compiled the Rigveda were writing about people who existed before 12,000 BCE.

Hymn 1 mandala manuscript of the Rigveda

Estimating that the Rigveda could be as old as 1900 BCE, the oldest part of the books are ten mandalas (“circles”) or “books”. Mandalas 2-7 are the oldest part of the Rigveda which comprises 38 percent of the entire text. Within the Mandalas are hymns dealing with a particular deity. In this case, Agni comes first; Indra comes second, consisting of 25 percent of the hymns, etc. The ninth mandala is entirely dedicated to Soma and the Homa ritual (Yajna).

Bas-relief on cylinder seal of Cyprus the Great, depicting Agni as well as Saka warriors

The following is a brief overview of Agni, the fire god in Jainism, Hindusim, and Zoroastrianism. Apparently, Agni is described as a bird-like being that carries fire from the gods to the earthlings who also brings an elixir of immortality (Amrita). Some ancient Indo-European hymns refer to Agni as the “heavenly bird that flies.” He played a role in being the guardian deity of the southeast direction, which aptly portrays the relationship between homa and soma in the Rigveda.

It is also written that Agni was the first force to bring light into the universe, thus creating night and day as well as personifying the ultimate source of the “creator-maintainer-destroyer” triad  and then the one who ruled the earth, possibly confused with Indra. After all, he was the twin brother of Indra (Agni is ascribed many epithets and synonyms throughout the 1,028 hymns (over 200 hymns or 1/3 of all hymns) in the Rigveda.)

This bird-like being became a standard of Cyrus II of Persia (epithet of Cyrus the Great or the Elder; ca. 600-30 BCE). Nonetheless, fire has been an important element in human culture since the Acheulian culture of the Old Stone Age (ca. 790,000-300,000 years ago). The earliest archeological site is at Jacob’s Ford on the upper Jordan River where a number of bridges were built, using fire.

Anzu, another bird-like entity related to Agni in ancient mythology, is referred to as the “Heavenly Eagle” (Akkadian)); aka Imdugud (“Heavenly Wind”(Sumerian), or Ansuk or Zu). Anzu was also associated with thunderstorms and was later connected to the lion due to the roar of the thunder. Eventually, in Sumerian and Akkadian mythologies, he was personified as the southern winds and thunder clouds and also as a half bird and half man who stole the Tablet of Destinies from Enki (chiefly, the Sumerian god of water and creation) and hid it on a mountaintop. Among other ancient poems, Anzu is mentioned in the Epic of Gilgamesh. Allegorically, Anzu survives as a griffon in ancient Greek and Roman times. In medieval Christian heraldry, the griffon symbolized divine power and protector of the divine. Associated with Agni, Anzu is also reminiscent of the ancient Greek and Roman griffins and Arimaspians (horse-lover tribes rather than the propaganda term “one-eyed” tribes) who were associated with gold deposits of Central Asia—of the Riphean, Carpathian, and Ural Mountains. (The griffins laid eggs in burrows, which were gold nuggets (thus, somewhat reminiscent of the Aesop’s fable, “The Goose that Laid Golden Eggs”). Historically, the Scythians knew where to find the gold, and they were the miners and artisans of gold. In fact, Enlil was also was one of the Anunnaki (princely offspring of Enki).

Left image of bas-relief: For stealing the Tablet of Destinies, which conferred upon god Enlil supreme authority as ruler of the universe, Anzu is pursued by Ninurta with his thunderbolts.

Image to the right below shows Enki wearing a cone-shaped hat

Bas-relief from Yazilikaya found in Hittite territory (Anatolia, Corum
Province of Turkey (Anatolian people from ca. 1700-1200 BCE)

Though names of empires and of territories changed, one thing was slow to change—the unfashionable peaked headgear and lofty attributes of human consciousness and existential emotions.

Returning to the legend of Indra. Portrayed as a primordial battle between forces, there was coexistence among the Indus Valley tribes whereby urban and rural lifestyles were symbiotic. But, perhaps by population pressure, opportunistic power struggles, and/or wanderlust, things changed for Indra. This is when Indra retained his power and kingdom until the earthlings no longer respected his powers as a result of fear. Indra turns to Brahma. At this point, the earthlings are experiencing a schism among themselves as to their belief systems.  Brahma becomes the principal deity for one side (the Vedic founders). Nonetheless, Brahma told Indra to look for Amrita (the elixir of immortality) in the Milk Ocean (the Milky Way). This was an extraordinary undertaking to get help from the other principalities. As the allegory unfolds, the principalities of good (representing the northern sky) and evil (representing the southern sky) came together to use the cosmic mountain Mandara as a stirring stick and the serpent Vasuki as a rope. With these two tools, they stirred and churned the Milk Ocean for a long time.

The Milk Ocean became a catastrophic flood that not only submerged animals and plants but also the princely treasured possessions and Amrita. A dangerous poison, kalakuta, came to the surface, which the Lord Shiva had to swallow to prevent the world from total destruction. . At first animals and plants were drowned in the increasing roar, then milk emerged from the frothed water, which gradually turned into butter through the constant stirring. After a while, a dangerous poison, kalakuta (a death potion such as mercury), came to the surface, which Lord Shiva had to swallow to prevent the destruction of the world. After that, various treasures surfaced from the Milk Ocean (which, with all the churning, produced butter)—such as, to name a few Indra’s mount, Lakshmi, the first maternal cow the Parijat (Jasmine) tree, and Dhanvantari, the Ayurveda medicinal doctor, holding the container of the elixir Amrita.  (Perhaps this is the Indus-Vedic memory of a great flood at the end of the last Ice Age around 10,000 years ago,)

Finally, once the Amrita was found, one faction wanted it for themselves; however, Vishnu intervened by turning into the enchantress, femme fatale Mohini, using the illusion of Maya. Taken by the beautiful appearance of Mohini, they forgot the elixir long enough for Vishnu to make the other faction to regain immortality. From this primordial, episodic event, enmity divided the peaceful existence among the pro-Saka tribes. The prevailing earthling players changed the trinity. For example, Krishna supplanted Shiva Surya.

Move arrow to see full illustrations: The loss of coexistence within a complex, multifaceted, civilized society

The chart below portrays how these events were allegorically portrayed among the Indus Valley population who understood valid cognition. It was, and still is, all about the inner exploration of selfhood rather than the material world that is the universe. It appears they knew then that the mind has always governed the material world.

IndraPersonal ego
Goals of good and badPositive and negative forces within our personalities
Integrated good and bad goalsHarmon for self-realization (psychosynthesis into a harmonious whole)
OceanThinking consciousness
Mount MandaraConcentration
Serpent VasukiWishes and desires (e.g., for immortality) and selfishness
Poison KalakutaSuffering and pain (e.g., mental pain and inner turmoil)
MohiniClouded mind with pride and delusional worldly concerns
Shiva swallowing the poisonDeveloping spiritual courage, will, discipline, willingness, simplicity, truthfulness, detachment, compassion, pure love, abstinence….
TreasuresPsychic powers gained through spiritual progress as side effects
Medicinal doctorSpiritual success; true-self realization

The Indus civilization (alias Indus-Sarasvati and Harappan Civilization, including Mohenjo Daro) formed first as an agricultural community ca. 7000 BCE in the valley of the Indus River while nomadic tribes remained hostile towards these farmers. By this time, the farmers had domesticated cattle. As the population grew between 40,000-50,000, the growth began with the first towns that were formed ca. 4000 BCE; the seed cities formed ca. 3700 BCE, reaching their peak period ca. 2000 BCE. By this time, the population is thought to have been five million! However, there is a discrepancy in the dating of their peak period when scientists found evidence at the second largest encampment, Dholavira, in Goa, India, of large, 59-foot-wide walls that were built 5000 years ago (ca. 3000 BCE) to protect against encroaching tsunamis. They dispersed ca. 600 BCE for any number of reasons, one of them being population pressure. The civilization grew from along the banks of the Indus River to all directions outward—many sites have been found, for example, near the border of Nepal, in Afghanistan, on the coasts of India, and around Delhi. In fact, this civilization may have predated the Early Dynastic Period ( ca. 3000-2675 BCE) of ancient Egypt. The civilization was governed by elected official; there was no evidence of kings and queens.

During this period, domestication of animals had become instrumental in their development. The first animals to be domesticated were sheep and goats ca 8000 BCE, followed by cattle ca 6000 BCE. Finally, the horse was domesticated ca 4000 BCE.

Indus Valley Script

Indus script first appeared around 3700 BCE when the first cities appeared in the Indus Valley. When the script became more developed, it was during the period that urbanization reached its peak period (ca. 2600-1900 BCE), which was read from right to left. By ca. 1800 BCE, the script started to disappear. Vedic literature describes its homeland on a long lost river called the Sarasvati, which, according to Vedic descriptions, flowed east of the Indus from the Himalayas to the Arabian Sea. When the Vedic Culture in Northern India took hold, a new script was developed ca. 600 BCE known as the Brahmi script with similar Semitic adaptations as the Indus Kharosthi language.

Reflected on the Indus Valley seals, there was already domestication of the bovine, reindeer, and Indra’s favorite mount, the elephant. There was a high level of artistic sophistication as these squared, stamp seals appeared on pottery, bronze tools, stoneware, bones, shells, ladles, ivory, small tablets made of steatite; and they were made of bronze and copper. Chiefly, made of steatite, these stamp seals were also made out of a smooth glassy-looking material, silver, faience, and calcite. What is particularly unique in the Indus seals is the artistic symmetry of their logo-syllabic script where the script is on the top and the animal is centered immediately below. It should be noted that some of the Indus valley seals show swastikas, a sacred symbol, which are still used in Buddhist, Bon, Jain, and Hindu iconography.  

So what became of this expansive civilization after ca 1800 BCE? According to Vedic texts, the Sarasvati River had dried up by ca. 1900 BCE, causing the surrounding townships-cities to move away. Evidence seems to point to climate change—the drying up of Sarasvati River and her tributaries, the path change of monsoons—and a decline in trade with Egypt and Mesopotamia when these peoples had their own survival challenges.

And who were they? Unlike the Egyptians and Mesopotanians, they were not builders of temples, palaces, or monumental structures, and no names of kings or queens or stelae or royal statuary. Their city planning before being inhabited followed a grid pattern. As an early advanced civilization, houses had flush toilets; a sewer system; air conditioning provided by a wind-catching device attached to roofs, a courtyard with a great public bath. There was early use of irrigation techniques and canals,. The wheel was developed for cattle-drawn carts and wide (by this time, Indra is riding a chariot led by horses (Ramayana Book 4 Shloka 103 Indra’s Chariot)), flat-bottomed boats to engage in trade. But more important is the evidence of conformity to a single visions; they standardized bricks, stone cubes, and roads widths. There was no standing army. By the time Cyrus II of Persia invaded India in 530 BCE, the Indus civilization had already fallen.

The Aryan Invasion Theory has been discredited in recent times as serving a political racist agenda by certain westerners. After all, the Aryans may likely be the ones of the Saka tribes described by Darius the Great. When they migrated into India, they did it peacefully, comingling with the society made up of various groups of people, which was unique. This migration happened at a later date. In fact, the only self-identifying as “Aryan” (Saka tayai paradraya) were themselves a minority on the Iranian Plateau between ca. 1900-1500 BCE and were in no position to mount an invasion.

There are a number of prominent features of the Indus religion—the Great Mother Goddess (Shakti; female sexuality is deeply ingrained in Indus religion and ideology), a Great Male God, and veneration of animals. Also, there are important depictions of the phallus (linga) and vulva (yoni), and the importance of bath and water in religious practice, which are predecessors of the Vedic culture. Also excavated is the “Proto-Shiva” or “Proto-Brahma” (as the great creator) that depicts a male character sitting in a yogic position on a dais and surrounded by animals, including fire altars and swastikas. These provide evidence of Indic ideology that was subsumed by the Vedic culture that followed. The spiritual foundation of the Vedas cannot be divorced from the earliest civilization of the Indus Valley region.

A parallel civilization was developing at the time of the Indus Valley civilization (alias Harappa) known as the Oxus civilization (alias Bactria-Margiana Archeological Complex (BMAC) ca. 2250-1700 BCE; aka Mohenjo-Dare and Allyn-Depe)) with similarities to the proto-urban settlements of the Indus Valley. In fact, many archeological artifacts from BMAC show evidence of trade between the two civilizations. The trading colony ca 2000 BCE, Shortugai, on the Amu Darya (aka Oxus) River illustrates the presence of the Indus Valley civilization, which was a source of lapis lazuli jewelry from lapis lazuli mines located there and other valuables—seal of a rhinoceros motif and script, cla models of cattle with carts, pottery of Indus Valley design, and the like. Also found was evidence of farming and irrigation canals from Indus Valley technology. Within this region (aka Transoxiana) between the rivers Amu Darya (aka Oxus) and Syr Darya (aka Jaxartes), there was much migration to the north and to the west from the Indus Valley ca. 3200-2000 BCE. Nonetheless, the Aryan Land (Airyana Vaeja) was established between these two rivers and eastwardly.

There are several speculations as to the original Saka (including SakaAryan lands). As documented in several sources, their ancient historical land had many mountains, valleys, and pastures that supported cattle. (Cattle was domesticated c 6000 BCE.) The land was rich in waters, deep lakes, and wide rivers while being mountainous with alpine measures and fertile, well-watered vales. It smacks like the ancient Indus Valley, which is now in Pakistan, Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Chandigarh, and Uttarakhand.

Homa and Soma

As mentioned earlier, in the Rig Veda, the entire ninth mandala is dedicated to homa and soma.

The Fire Ritual: Though Homa was very much a part of the Vedic culture, such fire altars were found in the earlier Indus Valley culture. To this day, the present Zoroastrians, such as the Parsees (Parsis) use fire as a focus of worship.

Although referred to as a “sacrifice ritual,” rooted in the Vedic religion (as yajna), it is more like a “votive ritual” in which the fire is the agent and the offerings are symbolic material to appease the deities. It spread from India to Central Asia, East Asia, and Southeast Asia and was adopted by Buddhism and Jainism in ancient times. Even current-day Buddhists in parts of Tibet (referred to as goma), Japan, Siberia, and China; and modern-day Jains make such fire offerings.  Among Buddhists, large- scale ceremonies often include multiple lamas, chanting, the beating of Taiko drums, and the blowing of conch shell (horagai) around a mandala with fire as the ceremonial focus. Homa (TIB. goma) rituals are featured widely in Tibetan Buddhism and Bön that are linked to Buddhas and tantric deities.

The Ritual Drink: Soma is described as an elixir (attributed in some records as amrita) that turned the skin of the imbiber a yellow gold (as an association to the Sun people) that was personified by a deity of the same name Soma who is associated with the Moon. It was highly praised in one of the Rigveda Mandala hymns. The closest and possibly credible description of the soma drink is derived from the fermented milky sap extracted from the Asclepias acida, a climbing plant which thrives in mountain areas. It was praised as sweet and empowered Indra to be victorious in taking on enemies. Some theories include  hallucinogenic mushrooms, honey, cannabis, blue lotus, milk, saffron, and pomegranate. Soma in Sanskrit literally means “distill, extract, and sprinkle.” It is surmised that it is a drink prepared by pressing the stalks of a plant and offered to Indra for blessings

According to Dr. Srinivasan Kalyanaraman, archeologist-anthropologist at Pune, India, noted that Maujavata soma was being traded ca. 4000 BCE who albeit of Saka origin, were Tocharian speakers (naming themselves as Yuezi (origining to the north and east of the Caspian steppe). They had initially migrated out of the Indus Valley to settle in Gandhara. These Tocharian-Saka are thought also to have moved to Mt. Mujavant (in Kyrgystan) and to Xinjiang (currently, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region of China). They traded in soma sticks (made of pyrite or flint) which could make fire. They were deemed as expensive as gold and was bartered in exchange of animal as well as gold. More than likely, these pyrite products where used in homa ceremonies, thus the name soma sticks. This migration was due to trade technology meeting the needs of the religious-spiritual cultures that reached into Xinjiang communities of small towns.

According to the alchemical treatise, Rudrayamala Tantra, Kalyanaraman noted that, to make soma, it ad to be digested hundred times with the juice of plaintain leaves and then steeped for three days in oil, clarified butter, and honey after which it was heated strongly in a crucible that yields its golden-hue essence. In some ways, it conflates the pyro-sticks with the ritual drink soma, because part of the alchemical treatise describes the process of smelting gold. Nonetheless, the homa and soma go together in oblations towards deities. It should be noted, however, that, when deities play a role in spiritual practice, the essence sought is how to realize the true nature of reality. That is the alchemy of immortality.

It was during the time that the Indus civilization began to decline (ca. 2000-1600 BCE) that Indra is referenced in the Rigveda accounts (ca.1700-1100 BCE). He was known to imbibe soma a lot due to rituals made on his behalf. But when the Vedic culture formed in opposition of the prevailing Indus culture, the powers of deities changed. In the Vedic literature, Indra is a celebrated god but later replaced by Shiva. In the Avestan texts, Indra became a demon. There is no mention in the latter texts that heroic Inda kills the demon Vritra.

Vedic soma is equivalent to the Iranian haoma. Thus, the Saka referred to as haoma drinkers are the Saka haumavarga. (It should be noted that modern laboratory analysis of archeological artifacts, the analysis found traces of opium and cannabis in the gold drinking vessels (Turpan, Xinjiang, 6th century BCE).)


Several maps below are provided to show how names of peoples and territories changed over time with an eye on the Indo-Scythians.

Basically, the Indo-Scythians were a branch of Sakae who originated from southern Siberia into ancient Bactria, Sogdia, Arachosia, Gandara, and the current territories of Kashmir, Punjab, Gujaret, Mahanashtra, and Rajasthan from the middle of the second century BCE to the fourth century CE. More aptly, a genetics map shows best how the Saka’s Haplogroup R1 migrated over time. Current archeological discoveries consider the traditional lands of the Sakae to form parts of present-day Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

Map of Haplogroup R1

Another well-known, recorded king of the Saka is King Maues (alias Moga, ca. 98-57 BCE), who gained power in Gandhara and gradually extended his rule over northern India and conquering key cities such as Taxila.  In so doing, he established the Saka hegemony by conquering Indo-Greek territories once formally established by Alexander the Great, extending control up to modern-day Mathura, a city in the state of Utter Pradesh. Other Saka kings ruled thereafter,

Sakestān (“the land of the Saka“) is a historical and geographical in present-day Eastern Iran (modern Sistan/Baluchestan provinces) and southern Afghanistan (modern Nimruz, Helmand, Kandahar) was formed ca. 3000 BCE. Old Perisian text referred to this land as Zranka (“wetland”) and the territory as Zaranka. But, there was another name for the Saka tyaiy paradraya; it was Ariya in Old Persian or Arya in Persian or Indian in the Rigveda. It had connotation such as “pure,” “chaste,” and “honorable” to this day.

Much of King Maues’s legacy survived via coinage. Maues struck some coins incorporating Buddhist symbolism, such as the lion, symbol of Buddhism since the time of the Mauryan king Ashoka. The symbolism of the lion had also been adopted by the Buddhist Indo-Greek king Menander II. Maues, therefore, probably supported Buddhism whether sincerely or for political motives is unclear. His coins also included a variety of other religious symbols such as the bull of Shiva, indicating wide religious tolerance.

“Aryan” Sakae. Of the known four tribes of Saka people, the Aryan is most studied. As for the “Aryan race,” it is mythology from a segment of Europeans who wanted to affiliate themselves politically with a people whose name meant “pure,” “chaste,” and the like, self-referenced by the Aryan tribes. There was no widespread ethnic connotation prior to the 19th century CE. For the Aryans, they were a conglomerate of peoples of Saka, Persians, Elamites, and the like who eventually shared a spiritual vision and from which came the Zoroastrian faith and current traditions in Hinduism. This Indo-Iranian group of people who followed the founding father of Zoroastrianism, Zarathustra Spitama (aka Zoroaster), were the members who composed the Zoroastrian scriptures, the Avesta, which Alexander the Great mostly destroyed during his conquest of Darius III of Persia. The Avesta referenced these members as Aryans (Airya and Airyan); in the Rigveda, they were called Arya and Aryan. This shows that the peoples of the Avesta and of the Rigveda were closely related, and they spoke two dialects of the same language. These Sakae moved westward before they returned to their previous lands in the East.

With regards to their first migration, it appears they moved from the Indus Valley around 1700 BCE when the Indus Valley civilization was at its peak. Zoroastrian scripture was developed, in part, by retaining various aspects of Sumerian religion in that certain terms were used prior to the time of Zoroaster (ca. 1500-1000 BCE); for example, an Aryan was one who who adhered to the path of Light rather than Darkness (e.g., a translation—”the one is the path of Asha (“Truth”); all others are not paths”). When Buddha Shakyamuni spoke about the Four Noble Truths (the aryamarga), he use the word arya to mean “noble,” (i.e., to be worthy of assent and respect (“exalted”)).

In the beginning, the Aryans were composed of at least three religions at different locations and times. In the Rigveda, the initial relationship between the asuras and devas was one of coexistence, but gradually become one of competition. Nevertheless, some of the asuras were invited to become devas (i.e., Indra invites Agni and Varuna to become devas (Rigveda 10.124 and verse 5, respectively). Recalling the Milk Ocean, co-existence ended as soon as the amrita was recovered when the devas took possession of it, breaking their promised to share half with the ausras, stealing the asuras’s share and consuming the Amrita that gave the principal devas immortality. In effect, the devas’s belief system overwrote the asuras’s and became exclusive.

At some point prior to 3000 BCE, a groups of Indo-Iranian (alias Indo-Aryans) migrated southwestward to the southern region of ancient Persia (near the ancient city of Susa). In time, the regional became known as Ariana and Iran. Some scholars claim they came from the Ural Mountains of Russia while others postulate that they migrated from the Aral Sea and the Syra Darya and Amu Darya Rivers, likely places were there would be settlement supported by recent archeological sites.

As Aryan lands or as a nation, they were called Airyana Vaeja or Airyanam Darhyunan in the Avesta; in the Rigveda, they were called Arya Varta.

Periodically, the deva Indra-worshippers and the asura Mazda-worshippers would win dominance over the other throughout history until their separation into the nations of India and Iran, respectively.

By the time of the birth of Zarathushtra (aka Zoroaster, founder of Zoroastrainism, Mazda worship was supplanted by deva worship. From the Saka Aryan Land, he preached to re-establish the old Mazdayasni faith (aka the Mazdayasni AhuraTkaesha, by seeking change through reason, wisdom, and empowerment of the downtrodden, in other words, a populist.

The schism between the AryanIndra (deva) worshippers and the others (asura and Mazda worshippers, the latter managed to drive out the deva worshippers from the upper and lower lands of Aryan lands (to include former Sakastan, Bactria, Hindu-Kush, Sogdiana, Pamir and other surrounding areas). It led to religious wars in which the deva worshippers prevailed only to have the Mazda worshippers counterattack. Eventually, the Mazda worshippers migrated westward into what is Iran (Persia)–thus the histories recorded in the Avesta and Rigveda. Knowing how human nature works, two behaviors were involved–kings and ruling groups seeking power and religious advisors seeking influence to cause animosity and control. Eventually, the AryanIndus (deva) worshippers migrated south across the Hindu Kush mountains into the upper Indus valley (former Saka territory).

Though Zoroastrianism (Mazda worshippers) reckoned themselves more as having a religious origin, their ethnicity was Saka, in general, and SakaAryan, specifically. The first map below shows how they spread throughout the Near East and Middle East.  The following map shows how the Saka (e.g., Parsi traders) then became established and rich with trade, being the ones who really developed the original Silk Roads. They spread throughout the Near East and Middle East.

At some point in time, the Aryan-Saka tayai paradraya east of the Caspian Sea and the Aryan-Saka beyond Sugdam from the Pamir Mountains moved into the northern region of the Indian Continent, bringing changes that transpired after their exodus from the Indus Valley. They joined with the remnants of the Saka from the Indus Valley of yore who retained the traditional spiritual values, which have survived in Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism. In fact, the Sanatan Dharma followers recognize that Sanatan Dharma is an alias for Arya Dharma.

Aryavarta literally means”abode of the Aryas,” the area of the Indian subcontinent settled by various “Aryan” tribes and where Aryan religion and rituals predominated. The boundaries of Āryāvarta changed over time, characterized by the influence of Brahmanical ideology after post-Vedic times. The Manu Smriti defined the area as “the tract between the Himalaya and the Vindhya ranges, from the eastern (Bay of Bengal) to the Western Sea (Arabian Sea)”. The Vasistha Dharma Sutra (oldest sutras ca. 500–300 BCE) locates the Āryāvarta to the east of the disappearance of the Sarasvati River in the desert, to the west of the Kālakavana, to the north of the Pariyatra (aka Sanapada) Mountains and the Vindhya Range, and to the south of the Himalayas.

Early Vedic (proper left); Late Vedic (proper right) Periods – ca. 1500-500 BCE

What characterizes the Saka clans and tribes is their sense of spirituality in that, though they were great traders and conquerors, they were more interested in their relationship with understanding the universe or divinity, for a lack of a better description. They labeled things and consequently developed the proto-Sanskrit during the ancient Indus Valley civilization. The word Aryan become more of an identity of personhood rather than a tribal identity. Ancient Sanskrit scripture writes that the “Aryan people are led by the divine grace” (praja arya jvotiragrah). To deserve the designation, which meant “noble” and/or “pure,” the person had to work for the equality of all and be dear to everyone.” Moreover, a child born among them was not an Aryan unless born in spirituality “through prayer” (sort of the equivalence of being born again).

About a thousand years after the diaspora of people from the Indus Valley Civilization (ca. 1600 BCE), the Vedic period of Aryans took hold in the northern subcontinent of India. With that came a change of the pantheon of deities: The main Indus deities were Indra (aka Sakra), Brahma, and Vishnu; under the Vedic influence, of the top 33 deities were Indra, Agni, and Soma, which changed to Brahma, Vishnu, and Rudra, etc. At one time it was Mitra, Varuna, and Aryaman, etc., retaining both devas and asuras. For example, during the 1400 century BCE, the favored asuras were Varuna, Mitra, and Mazda and the favored devas were Indra and Nasatyas. Somewhere in these transformations, Shiva, God of Waters, swam into the picture while Shakti was dominant during the Indus Valley Civilization. Nonetheless, these newcomers into the subcontinent retained the pluralistic structure of the Indus Valley Civilization.

The first time one of the Saka tribes was written about in Indian literature was during the reign of King Sagara of the Ikshvaku Solar Dynasty. King Sagara was the ancestor of Rama who took back his country from the invading Haihayas and Talajanghas. On the advice of the family priest Vasishtha, he released them from captivity. Among the captives were the Saka (Parādas, Viṣṇupurāṇa) who had to shave half of their head, distinguishing them from the others. They were all called Mleechas (non-Vedic) and driven out into uninhabitable terrains such as mountains and deserts.

Based on the Bhagavata Purana that was compiled during Siddhartha Gautama’s time (ca. 1887-1807 BCE), the Solar dynasty or the Ikshvaku (aka Aikṣvākaaka, Suryavamsa, or “Descendants of the Sun,” a paternal lineage) reigned from ca. 3138-1634 BCE. Siddhartha Gautama was from that lineage, and Surya is symbolized by the sun. Later on, Surya was transmutted to Vishnu.

King Suddhodana was a descendant of Rama (reference to the ancient Indus Valley civilization known also as the Rama Empire), the 138th king in the Solar Dynasty of one of the Sakyan tribes, who ruled over Kapilavatthu, and was Siddhartha’s father. Siddhartha and his son Rahula abdicated from belonging to the Indian caste of Kshatriya, comprising of rulers and military people. They were descendants from the warrior lineage of Mahasammata. They underwent extensive military training, probably from Taxila, to become experts in archery, swordsmanship, and hand-to-hand combat. We know that Siddhartha had to prove his skills in archery, horse riding, and swordsmanship in a tournament to be allowed to marry Yasodhara whom he married.

As an aside, the Sanskrit word Sakadāgāmi means “sainthood,” and many later kings of the Indian subcontinent claimed to be of Suryavanshi descent.

During the Kosala Kingdom, King Okkaka of the Solar dynasty had sons who reigned Saketa (“a place where God resides”), established the Shakya capital Kapilavastu, and formed the state Sakya Ganarajya, according to a Mahavastu Buddhist text.,%20or%20haplogroup%20R-M420,%20is%20a%20human,subclade%20M417%20(R1a1a1)%20diversified%20ca.%205,800%20years%20ago.,their%20own%20Empire%20in%20India,%20was%20the%20Saka-Parthians.


Compare Your DNA to an Ancient Saka Prince and Princess,%20or%20haplogroup%20R-M420,%20is%20a%20human,subclade%20M417%20(R1a1a1)%20diversified%20ca.%205,800%20years%20ago.,their%20own%20Empire%20in%20India,%20was%20the%20Saka-Parthians.

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